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Two views of Jerusalem – a short reading list for Donald Trump


A collection of poetry and a book of walks round the city might help the US president with his foreign policy

Donald Trump is not a great reader. He has said that he does not in fact need to read widely, because he makes decisions based on the knowledge he already has, along with a dose of common sense. When it comes to making decisions about Jerusalem, and the location of the US embassy, a little reading might have been useful. So in choosing a Christmas present for the president to buttress his existing knowledge, I’ve avoided histories and selected two books that will give him the greatest insight in the shortest space of time: the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s series of poems about Jerusalem and the Palestinian lawyer Raja Shehadeh’s book Palestinian Walks. Each gives a lateral, original perspective with a resonant sense of place. And both can be read in small portions (every chapter of Shehadeh’s book is a self-contained walk), perfect for a president who has said: “I want it short.”

Amichai, Israel’s most celebrated poet, lived in Jerusalem. He died in 2000. His remarkable poems about the city capture the pervasive weight of its history in a singularly brooding atmosphere: “Jerusalem, the only city in the world / where the right to vote is granted even to the dead.” He describes the city as crouched among the hills “unlike New York”, forever locked in the same starting-line position for 2,000 years. “How can any man be the mayor of a city like that?” asks Amichai in another poem. “What can he do with her? / He will build, and build, and build.” In a terrifying image, the poet imagines the stones of the hills crawling down towards the stone houses at night like wolves. Jerusalem’s biblical past co-exists with the present through language that moves between ancient imagery and contemporary idiom: prophets, buses, bombs, fig trees and laundry. This is a city of tension and repressed violence “built on the vaulted foundations of a held-back scream”. Amichai’s Jerusalem inspires awe. It is not a place that you would want to mess with.

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